What the Papers Say

Last week you saw my game against Ron Bruce (who had previously lost to Alekhine in 12 moves) from Paignton 1976. There are two further stories to be told about this game, reprinted here from RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club Newsletter/Magazine with kind permission from the author, editor and publisher.

The story so far. Those few RAT readers who actually play through the games may recall that I published a mildly amusing but somewhat inaccurate game I played at Paignton in the last issue. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I forked out seven of my hard-earned pence for the New Inflationary Evening Standard on my way home from work on Monday 31st January. I turned, as is my wont, to the Leisure Page, read my horoscope – Leo, would you believe – laughed at ‘Clive’ and ‘Bristow’, Bridge with Rixi – ah! Chess with Lenny, and read the following attached to the diagram on your left (or even below) (translated into Algebraic for trendies and Eurofreaks).

“R.M. Bruce v R. James Paignton 1976. Black’s pawn is about to queen, so White’s effective choice is limited. Should White (to move) play (a) 1. Rxg7+, (b) Bxg7, or (c) another move- and which (if any) of these alternatives saves the game?

“Par times: 30 seconds, chess master; 1 minute, expert; 3 minutes, strong club player; 5 minutes, average club; 8 minutes, weaker club or school; 20 minutes, average.”

Curious, for a reason which will become apparent later, I turned to the solution and read:

“In the game, White chose (a) 1. Rxg7+ and resigned after Kh8 since he has no more useful checks. The Richmond chess magazine claims a draw by (b) 1. Bxg7 Qxb7 2. Bxb7 Kxg7 3. c6 a1Q 4. c7 Qf1+ 5. Kh2 Qf2+ 6. Kh3, but then f4! 7. gxf4 Qe3+ wins as Black will win White’s pawn on the seventh. So Black wins in all variations.”

Now this refutation had been claimed to me a few weeks previously by RAT reader Nevil Chan (Harrow – we get around) but looking at the position again I thought I could cope with it. In any case I was under the impressiou I had given 5.. Qe2+ rather than Qf2+ in my notes. But surely Leonard Barden couldn’t be wrong. Had I really failed to solve the problem with the regulation 3 minutes, or, as some have claimed, 5 minutes? Would I be consigned for ever to the category of ‘weaker club or school’, or, even worse, to the grey mass of mediocrity indicated euphemistically by the terse ‘average’? Was ‘RAT’ to become a byword for shoddy analysis? Would I become known all over London as a perpetrator of inaccurate annotations?

I rushed home and checked that I had indeed, as I had thought, given 5.. Qe2+. First blood to me. I then set up the position and found that again, as I had thought, after 5.. Qf2+, Kh1! draws. (After 5.. Qe2+, Kh1 loses to Qd1+ and Qc2+ but if 5.. Qf2+ White’s king can go to h3 when Black checks on either d2 or e2). I checked this analysis at the club later that evening with David Goodman amongst others and my findings were confirmed. Right again, the position is, as I claimed, a draw.

Returning to 2018, here’s the critical position with Black to play. After 5.. Qf2+ 6. Kh3? f4! Black is winning: 7. gxf4 and now Black can choose either Qe3+ or Qf1+, with an eventual fork picking up the passed pawn. So White must play 6. Kh1! instead. Now Black can try again: 6.. Qf1+ 7. Kh2 Qe2+. This time 8. Kh1? loses: Black has time to zigzag to the c-file and pick up the pawn. So now White has to play 8. Kh3! leading to a draw. It’s a bit confusing at first, isn’t it? After Qf2+, Kh1 draws while Kh3 loses, but after Qe2+, Kh3 draws while Kh1 loses. For those of you who teach chess, this position, or, for a harder puzzle, the position in the first diagram, might be a good quiz question. Possibly something I might use in CHESS PUZZLES FOR HEROES! Anyway, back to 1976/7 for the second story.

Incidentally, as my notes were already rather too long, I neglected to include the following conversation which took place immediately after the game.

RMB: I should have played Bxg7 but forgot that my rook was defended by my king’s bishop.
RJ: After Bxg7 I play Qxb7 Bxb7 Kxg7 and my pawn queens.
RMB: Oh, yes.
Enter Harry (Golombek), an old sage.
HG: I see vice triumphs over virtue once again.
RMB: Not at all. My opponent played very well.
Exit, pursued by a bore.

It was only back at the hotel that I realised that Black had problems as White could push his c-pawn.

Of course all this happened more than 40 years ago, while it was 38 years before this game, almost to the day, that Ron Bruce lost to Alekhine. Time passes. Everything’s different, but again, everything’s very much the same. I’m still here and still playing chess. Leonard Barden’s still here, and still writing a regular column (online only these days) in the Evening Standard.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.